Saturday, 18 September 2010

The eyes and the look...

Translation by my dear friend Saba Hasan
Albeit it a fleeting look but look at least
Be cruel if you wish to, but not too much
We cant seem to find anyone like you
For you there is no one less than us
We have seen your eyes sad too
But, I swear on you, less than our wet eyes
If you wish then this distance could go
What is left anyways but a step less than a step

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Hey, America: I’m a Muslim, let’s talk

by Mona Eltahawy
14 September 2010

New York, New York - I have developed an overwhelming urge to tell everyone I meet I’m a Muslim.

As a Muslim woman who doesn’t wear a headscarf, I’m often mistaken for a Latina and other ethnicities that my features match. But as anti-Muslim sentiment has risen across the United States, so has my urge to say: “Hey America: I’m a Muslim. Let’s talk.”

That urge took me to the sidewalk in front of Park51, the proposed community centre and mosque near Ground Zero, over Labor Day Weekend. I spent four days with a small but dedicated group of sidewalk activists who for more than three weeks have stood in front of Park51 with signs reading “Peace Tolerance Love” to support its right to build.

The volunteer sidewalk activists are a mix of non-Muslims and Muslims, and newly-minted activists in their 20s as well as veteran activists of their parents’ generation.

We were not there to defend or speak for any of the spiritual or financial backers of Park51. We were there to defend Park51’s constitutional right to build. For me, opposition to Park51 was part of that larger pattern of anti-Muslim sentiment that had expressed opposition to several other mosque projects around the country. It was much bigger than Park51.

The easiest people to deal with, for me, were what I called the “hit and runs” – passersby who thanked us or those who would hurl insults as they moved on.

Those four days in front of Park51 taught me a lot. First, I learned to resist labelling as a “bigot” anyone who opposed its building. Some of those against Park51 were indeed bigots, but as my sidewalk activist friends taught me, when you call them bigots it makes them defensive and it ends up shifting the focus from the issue at hand – the necessary discussion about Park51’s right to build – to the hurt feelings of the people you just called bigots.

And that necessary discussion can bear fruit. Two women who had walked over to Park51 from a nearby protest against the centre had some questions. One wanted to know about jihad. I said I condemned all acts of violence committed in the name of any religion, including my own. After some back and forth, Meryl said we both should launch a jihad against violence in the name of any religion and asked if she could hug me.

“Why aren’t there millions of Muslims like you?” she asked.

“There are,” I answered.

Mary wanted to know how, as a woman, I could remain a Muslim when Muslim women were treated so badly.

I told her I would be lying if I denied that women in Muslim-majority countries enjoyed equal rights but also said I belonged to a movement called Musawah, which means equality and which aims for equality and justice in the Muslim family by working to remove misogynistic and male-dominated interpretations of Islam.

Again, after a back-and-forth discussion, Mary hugged me too.

Later, another woman asked: “Can’t you see that you’re hurting people’s feelings by building so close to Ground Zero? Think of the victims’ families.”

“Can you see when you ask me a question like that you’re assuming that I had something to do with the attacks on 9/11?” I answered. “Those men were Muslim but it was 19 men. None of us here had anything to do with it.”

“But would it be so hard to move it somewhere else?”

“That’s a really slippery slope,” I told her. “There are mosques across the country being opposed. Where do you draw the line? Once you make Park51 move, anyone can say ‘Oh I don’t want Muslims around here. Move them.’”

She too gave me a hug!

I often went home not just ready to collapse but wondering if I had at all helped to stem that wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. Does talking to six or seven people change anything?

One man who identified as a liberal Christian stopped to ask general questions about Islam. He had many. After talking for about half an hour, he thanked me and said it was the best conversation he had had about the religion. So I have to believe that my “Hey America: I’m a Muslim, let’s talk” campaign is worth it.

* Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 14 September 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Death in Paris of Professor Mohamed Arkoun

From Ennahar Online
Professor Mohamed Arkoun great Islamic scholar and a « smuggler » between religions, died Tuesday evening in Paris at the age of 82, has announced a close relative, Father Christian Delorme.

This Algerian was professor emeritus of history of Islamic thought at the University of Sorbonne in Paris and one of the initiators of the dialogue. Mohamed Arkoun was born in 1928 in Taourit-Mimoun, a small village in Kabylia (north-eastern Algeria), in a very modest family. After attending elementary school in his village, he went to high school with the White Fathers in Oran (northwest) and had studied Arabic literature, law, philosophy and geography at the University of Algiers.

Through the intervention of the University teacher Louis Massignon, said Christian Delorme, he was able to prepare aggregation in Arabic language and literature at the Sorbonne University. He then taught at several universities before being appointed in 1980, professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III. He teaches the history of Islamic thought and develops a discipline: Applied Islamology.

Since 1993, he was professor emeritus at the Sorbonne, but he continued to lecture around the world. Mohamed Arkoun was convinced that the historical event of "the word become Koranic text" had not benefited from the scientific interest he deserved, and that huge construction sites remained open. For him, the "three definitions of revelation "the Jewish definition, the Christian definition and Muslim definition could not be separated, and their study brings to each lighting.

In 2008, he directed the development of the "History of Islam and Muslims in France from the Middle Ages to the Present time", an encyclopedic work which had been attended by many historians and researchers (Albin Michel) and which tells and explains a common history.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Lebanese poet Haddad pushes boundaries on erotica

By Junaid Ahmed BBC News (Copyright, All Rights Reserved)
13 September 2010 Last updated at 06:08 ET

Joumana Haddad Jasad was first published in December 2008

Joumana Haddad, the editor of an erotic Arabic-language magazine and author of a new book that challenges sexual taboos in the Arab world, is drawing praise and death threats alike. The Lebanese writer and poet publishes Jasad - Arabic for body - a glossy quarterly that deals with eroticism and body-culture.

Published since December 2008, Jasad's articles range from violence in relationships to voyeurism and masturbation. Her works have been opposed by Muslims and Christian groups alike, but Ms Haddad says she will not be silenced.

"When I started doing Jasad, I started receiving a lot of hate mail and threats," she told the BBC World Service in a recent interview. "I didn't want to be intimidated and compelled to stop doing what I was convinced I needed to do," she says. "I just kept on doing it."

She has been described by some as the Carrie Bradshaw of Beirut - in reference to the main character from Sex and the City - but says the purpose of her work is not to emulate the West. "I don't think this is Western," she says, "I get feedback from women all over the Arab world telling me how great it is to read this magazine."

Ms Haddad, who grew up in a conservative Christian family in Lebanon, says the main image of an Arab woman in the West is the one of the victim, "the one who doesn't have any decision over her body, her life."

Cover of Jasad Publication of Jasad had evoked strong criticism

But that should not be the only image of an Arab woman in the world, she argues. "Even though that image does exist," she says, there is also another Arab woman who is liberated and emancipated, "and she represents the hope for the first one."

Ms Haddad, first began publishing her work when she was in her mid-20s, first in French and then in Arabic. She launched Jasad two years ago, and says the magazine is read by a wide range of people despite the taboo of sex in the Arab world.

It has the obvious readership, "the people who are not embarrassed to buy it in front of everybody else," and what she calls the background readership - people who attack it in public, and read it in secret. Even though the material is controversial, Ms Haddad insists that they must be written by Arabic writers using their real names. "I do not accept fake names," she says.

Her latest book, I killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, takes aim at Middle Eastern women themselves - for not doing enough to fight for their rights. Even in her home country of Lebanon, where many women dress more freely than in other Arab countries and can go out at night, Ms Haddad says there is still a lot of discrimination.

"Women have to be very careful about not falling into that trap of superficial freedom," she warns. Ms Haddad sees confrontation, not capitulation, as the key to women's advancement.

"This is why I attacked the image of Scheherazade [in my book]," she says, referring to the queen at the centre of the age-old stories contained in A Thousand and One Nights. "[Scheherazade] negotiated with the man [the king]. She told him: 'I'll tell you a story each night, and you let me stay alive'. "The woman is sometimes the worst accomplice against herself," she says.

Ms Haddad says her book aims to reflect the real dilemmas of women in Arab societies. But her work has received almost the same number of complaints from various Christian churches as it has from Shia and Sunni Muslim groups, she says.

"I think we underestimate the power of the Church. There is a lot of discrimination in the Church and I talk about it in the book," she tells the BBC. "Christianity, as far as I am concerned, is not that different from Islam. I'm convinced that religion in general is one of the worst enemies of women's emancipation," she adds.

Saudi Arabia's juggling act on homosexuality

As a gay diplomat seeks US asylum, Saudi Arabia seems torn between wanting a civilised image and appeasing traditionalists

by Brian Whitaker (Copyright, All Rights Reserved)
Monday 13 September 2010 17.00 BST

Saudi Arabia may be a miserable place to live, but it's not very often that a Saudi diplomat seeks refuge in the United States. The last time it happened was in 1994.

At the weekend, though, it emerged that Ali Ahmad Asseri, first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, has applied for asylum in the US on the grounds that he is gay. He says his employers have refused to renew his diplomatic passport – effectively terminating his job – after finding out about his sexuality. He adds they were also unhappy about his friendship with a Jewish woman.

The Saudis are reportedly demanding his return to the kingdom, where Asseri fears he would be killed "in broad daylight".

The conservative American Thinker website is rather excited about this and suggests it "will pose a real problem for the Obama administration, which loves to cozy up to (and bow before) Saudi power" – though I doubt that it will.

If American officials accept Asseri's story he is almost certain to be granted asylum. The Saudis may grumble a bit about that for the sake of appearances, but letting him stay in the US would spare them the embarrassing and potentially damaging question of what to do about him if he returned home.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, Asseri is the first Saudi ever to publicly declare himself gay. So, in a way, this is uncharted territory – but territory where the authorities in Riyadh would probably rather not go. If he went home they would either have to charge him or provide him with lifelong protection – and no matter which course they chose, it would anger someone.

As in some other recent cases (such as the TV fortuneteller accused of sorcery who was sentenced to death and then apparently reprieved) they are torn between their desire to present a civilised image to the outside world and their need to appease religious traditionalists on the home front.

Saudi Arabia is one of four Arab countries where homosexual acts are not only illegal but punishable by execution. The others are Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen; the same applies in non-Arab Iran, just across the Gulf from Saudi Arabia.

In contrast to Iran, though, there have been no "gay" executions reported in Saudi Arabia since 2002 when three men from Abha were beheaded. There have, however, been various raids on gay parties and men have been arrested for "behaving like women" but the usual penalties are flogging and imprisonment – which tend to attract less media attention than executions.

Despite its officially tough stance against homosexuality, the Saudi regime – like most of the other Arab governments – does not regard the issue as important enough to risk jeopardising its international relations, so it will probably be quietly grateful to the US if Asseri stays in Los Angeles. But it can't keep up its juggling act for ever, and at some point it will have to decide where it really stands.

Pope visit: This visit can help Muslims find a place in a hostile continent

By Mona Siddiqui
Published: 7:00AM BST 11 Sep 2010 (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

Building bridges: Must the Pope have "dialogue" with Muslims, either culturally or theologically, for his visit to have relevance for them? What Pope Benedict has said about Islam will keep many watching keenly , writes Mona Siddiqui.

This Thursday I will be at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where the Queen will receive Pope Benedict, as the first state visit by a Pope to Britain gets under way. It’s a privilege to be invited because, however one views Pope Benedict or the Vatican and, whatever resentments one feels towards the Catholic church in the light of recent sexual abuse revelations, this is a symbolic and historic occasion; it demands attention.

Benedict is only the second pope to come to Britain since Henry VIII broke with Rome, and his visit falls within the 450th anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland and the country’s schism with Rome. In fact, he arrives on the feast day of St Ninian, which will remind Scotland of its Catholic roots. There is enough intra-Christian symbolism around this event to keep onlookers and worshippers intrigued or even suspicious – but what of the non-Christians? How significant is the papal visit for people of other faiths?

On one level, it is not significant at all; this is just another state visit by a leader who just happens to be both the head of a state and the head of a faith. But religious leaders always have the potential to do great harm as well as great good. As a Muslim who has been involved in Christian-Muslim interreligious work for some years, I know that what the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict in particular, have said and done with respect to the Islamic faith will keep many in the inter-religious world watching keenly.

Benedict presented himself to much of the Islamic world through his 2006 university address in Regensburg in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who had strongly criticised Islam and its propensity for violence. Tragically, many Muslims around the world did react violently, demanding an apology and fuelling the growing frustration within Western society that Muslims tolerate free speech only as long as it doesn’t offend them.

Benedict did, subsequently, apologise for causing offence and he has since been to Turkey where, in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, he turned towards Mecca in a gesture of prayer. This trip was hailed as a success. He also addressed Muslims and Christians in the King Hussein Mosque in Amman in 2009, urging Muslims and Christians to work together for the common good. During his visit to Britain he is expected to address faith leaders.

Does any of this really matter, especially when, behind the scenes, one sees that the pontifical council for dialogue with Jews and Muslims is weaker than it has been for a long time? Must the Pope have “dialogue” with Muslims, either culturally or theologically, for his visit to have relevance for them? Dialogue has to be more than symbolic to be transformative. It has to be more than playing politics, it has to be persuasive and passionate and resonate in peoples’ lives.

There are so many negative assumptions about the place of religion in society that meaningful debates about it are almost non-existent. The widely accepted and extolled narrative is that democracies must be secular to flourish and that liberal states do not need religion to give them real moral purpose. However we understand secularism and its relationship to democracy, it is foolish to think that religion does not matter and that people of faith need simply to tame their religious passions.

This will not just be manifest by the hundreds of thousands of faithful Catholics who turn up to see the Pope, but also by the many who will be glued to their televisions. They will want to hear what he has to say about the place of God and conscience in society but, more significantly, about Europe’s Christian past and the question mark over its Christian future. Muslims have a huge stake in this conversation as Islam is the one faith that has been perceived as a threat to social and political cohesion.

The potent images of an illiberal sharia imposing fanaticism equated with effigy-burning has made many Europeans suspicious or contemptuous of Islam. If Islam has nothing to offer Europe, where do Muslims see themselves and their values in a continent where their faith seems at best incomprehensible, at worst evil? Most Muslims would deny that they recognise themselves in such an image, but the debate is real and the solution is not to be reactionary but visionary – Europe belongs to us all; its future depends on us all.

Mona Siddiqui is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Glasgow

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Scottish Kilt: Proud to be Scottish

"Everybody is up for a good time, and that's what we need everywhere, at the moment, particularly at this moment!" Sean Connery.